Cuban Salsa: Why Vacilala is best for Setenta

We have two, on the surface, equally good ways to do the Setenta, the Hammerlock part of Setenta moves. We can start with Vacilala steps, turning the Follow into the Hammerlock already on 1-2-3, and just walk on 5-6-7, or we can walk on 1-2-3, and use the Cuban Vuelta right turn on 5-6-7, also called the Habanero.

Most dance schools teach the stationary Vuelta Setenta at beginner’s level, simply because it is the easiest method. But already at intermediate level, most dance schools introduce the Vacilala Setenta. It is more difficult because the Follow must step forward on one in order to do the Vacilala steps.

Making the Follow do Vacilala steps is no problem in a dance school setting. The music is slow, the Lead will prep it by opening up on seven and tap on eight (optional), and lead the Follow a little forward on one, and since the instructor normally calls the move, the Follow has no doubts about what is coming. She can hear the call and has plenty of time to prepare for Vacilala steps.

Vacilala in social dancing

In social dancing, many Leads almost always use the Vuelta Setenta, and that is unfortunate, since, as I am going to explain: the Vacilala Setenta is, in the long run, far superior to the Vuelta Setenta. The reason for replacing Vacilala with the Vuelta is simple, and it happens not just for Setenta moves but also for El Dedo moves and for the handheld Vacilala.

The Follow is simply not up to the task of doing Vacilala steps with little and late prepping. In the heat of a fast dynamic dance, there is seldom time to open up on seven and to tap on eight in order to prep for Vacilala. Also there is no instructor to prep the Follow (!) by announcing that Vacilala is coming.

Most Follows have been educated in the “less good” dance schools, teaching them to backrock by default on one, when starting Dile Que No or e.g. when getting out of Guapea. If a Follow backrocks on one by default, it is almost impossible, except in the most trivial cases, to make her turn right or left on 1-2-3. She can not react fast enough, and is caught on the “wrong” foot, or rather on the right foot in the wrong position.

With backrocking as default step on one, the Follow is too often a split second too late, when forced to step forward. She might succeed to turn anyway but it is not pretty, more like being twisted around than walking a proper Vacilala, and the Hammerlock ends up messy, more on 3-4-5 that than on 1-2-3. When Leads experience again and again, that Follows are too late for Vacilala, they opt for the more safe Vuelta right turn.

Vacilala and Vuelta are not always equal

It is conventional wisdom, that the Vuelta Setenta and the Vacilala Setenta are equally good. The Vuelta Setenta is the one to use with a week Follow. On intermediate and advanced level, we can use both, and it is mostly a matter of personal choice, which one to use. But this is not always true.

I have even heard the argument, that since so many moves start with Vacilala steps, like Sombrero and Balsero moves, El Dedo moves, A Bayamo moves, it is BEST PRACTICE to use the Vuelta model for Setenta moves, even at advanced level, in order to have more variations for how to start moves.

This might be true for beginners, but advanced dancers don’t need Vuelta for variation. We use very many different moves, a lot of walks and Son moves in our dance, and we often skip the beginning and endings of traditional moves in order to merge them into one big whole and to dance with one long, uninterrupted flow.

The Vuelta Setenta and the Vacilala Setenta are only equally good when we look at the Hammerlock part of Setenta in isolation, as a move without context. It actually matters what comes next. Or what options become available, when we do one or the other.

Enchufla and Dile Que No

In order to understand the benefits of doing the Hammerlock part of Setenta moves on 1-2-3, that is with Vacilala steps, let me use some other moves to illustrate my basic point of view. Let us start with Enchufla. This move always starts on 1-2-3, leading the Follow into a half left turn. On 5-6-7 both Lead and Follow continue forward. On 5-6-7, in the basic version of Enchufla, Lead and Follow just walk in “idle” fashion doing “nothing”.

And that is the whole idea! For 5-6-7 of Enchufla, the “idle” part, Lead and Follow can adjust their stepping and handhold, position themselves best possible and prepare mentally for the next move. They can react to events in the music, using their head, shoulders, torso, hips and feet, and the partners have time to connect even more, giving each other the best of smiles. And because 5-6-7 is “free” for something, the Lead can even use it to give the Follow a Coca-Cola turn.

Exactly the same is true for Dile Que No. The difficult part is to change direction on the partner circle, and we do that on 1-2-3. For 5-6-7 both Lead and Follow “just” walk forward counter-clockwise to get to the new opposite positions. This 5-6-7 can be used for all the same things in the Enchufla example. The 5-6-7 of Dile Que No can also be used to add a Coca-Cola turn or an outside turn, or the Lead can make a right turn (hook turn) and change hands.

Vacilala and Habanero

Let us now look at the right turn in general, and compare the options when turning the Follow on 1-2-3 and on 5-6-7. A handheld Vacilala is a right turn done already on 1-2-3 with just walking on 5-6-7. This gives us all the benefits of the “free” 5-6-7 of Enchufla and Dile Que No: We can react to the music, we can adjust stepping and handhold, we can position ourselves best possible for the next move, and the Lead have time to prepare for the next move, time to prime and prep the Follow.

Not only that. When we turn with Vacilala on 1-2-3, we can add a Cuban Vuelta (Habanero) on 5-6-7. If we do a double turn on 1-2-3, it doesn’t matter that much if the second turn first ends on 4-5, we still have time to recover on 6-7. If we start turning on 1-2-3, we can even space it out over the full count of eight and make a triple turn.

Most of the above options are not available or much more difficult, when the Follow is turned on 5-6-7. One can argue that in that case, we have a “1-2-3” to use for something? Yes and No, at least not much. The 1-2-3 is needed for prepping the right turn on 5-6-7, and if we don’t focus on that task the Follow will misunderstand the lead. There is one benefit from having a “1-2-3” at our disposal before the turn: We can do the prepping with style and it is easier to prep without misunderstandings.

Of cause we can also do a double turn as part of the Cuban Vuelta on 5-6-7. But it has to be perfect. We don’t have a 5-6-7 to recover from the slightest imbalance. The next split second, we need to continue with some other basic figure.

The Vuelta right turn seen on it’s own, without the context of what comes next, is a very fail-safe move, and that is why it is popular for beginners. At beginner’s level a Vuelta right turn typically starts from Guapea and ends with going back to Guapea. This setup is the easiest of all imaginable for the application of the move. We need advanced dancing to experience the limitations of the Vuelta on 5-6-7.

How to exit the Hammerlock

Above I have looked at the benefits of having a “free” 5-6-7 in Enchufla, Dile Que No and when giving a right turn on 1-2-3, a handheld Vacilala. Most of it is equally true for the Hammerlock done on 1-2-3, the Vacilala Setenta. Except that since the Hammerlock is a lock, we are more constrained in what we can do, or it is more difficult to make use of the 5-6-7. Let us now go one step further and look at other benefits when we use Vacilala.

What comes next after the Hammerlock? At some point, we always need to exit the Hammerlock. Almost all Leads use Enchufla and the vast majority of Leads use Enchufla as exit all the time. But at intermediate-advanced level, we have a handful of other options, often used by the best dancers. Let me list the most common.

The Follow can be right-turned under the Lead’s left arm. The Follow can be left-turned under the Leads right arm, the Lead can use the extremely difficult but very versatile Brazo Largo exit, the hallmark of the best dancers. The Lead can walk under his left arm and give the Follow a hand-free Vacilala, the Lead can walk under his left arm and release the Follow’s right hand and get into bend arm moves (often called police grip).

All the exits from the Hammerlock work best if the Follow is turned into the Hammerlock already on 1-2-3, because the Lead has more time to prepare them, more time to prime and prep the Follow. Some of the above can already be done during the 5-6-7 of the Hammerlock, or the Lead can wait and do the exit in the next count of eight, as the Lead is forced to do when using the Vuelta Hammerlock.

That is, the difference between the Vacilala Setenta and the Vuelta Setenta is that with Vacilala the Lead has twice as may options for exactly how to exit the Hammerlock, or much more time to prepare for the more advanced exits.


Doing the Hammerlock already on 1-2-3, gives us a “free” 5-6-7, that can be used for all sorts of things like adjusting steps, handholds and positioning, reaffirming connection with the partner, be more playful and music driven, etc. We can do double turns as part of the Hammerlock much easier, when we have time to recover on 5-6-7. Also a long list of exits from the Hammerlock become much easier, or the Lead has twice as many options for how to exit the Hammerlock compared with the Vuelta Hammerlock.

The Vuelta Hammerlock is perfect at beginners level, especially if it is just to be followed by the Enchufla exit. Even at advanced level, the Vuelta Setenta can some times be used for variation, or to rescue the Lead if he was too late to start it with Vacilala.

But in the long run, the Vacilala Setenta is much more powerful, it has much more potential, it is much more versatile than the Vuelta Setenta. The Vacilala Setenta, except with slow music and time to open up on seven and tap on eight (optional), requires that the Follow has forward stepping as default on one. A Follow should never, ever, backrock on one, unless a bad Lead forces her to do so, or when it is essential for a few specific moves.

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